Not quite the winter Porter wanted, but he’s back now and raring to go for Essex
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Twenty-seven long, cold weeks since they paraded the Specsavers County Championship trophy around the outfield of The Cloudfm County Ground, the Essex players were back on the same green, green grass of Chelmsford yesterday. No one was happier to be home than the leading wicket-taker in the country last season, Jamie Porter, writes Martin Smith
Selected for the England Lions tours to Australia and the West Indies during the winter on the back of his 75 red-ball wickets in 2017, the world looked to be at Porter’s feet. It did not quite work out like that.
Barely a month after Essex were crowned champions for the first time in quarter of a century, the 24-year-old was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back, the curse of the seam bowler. The Australian leg of the winter went by the wayside. Then, when he recovered to make it to the Caribbean it turned out that the wickets favoured spin and he played a bit part in the Lions Tests and the North versus South pre-season series.
In all, the man who had blown holes in First Division batting line-ups a few months earlier, played just seven matches with an assorted of different coloured balls, bowled 79 and a half overs, taking seven wickets at 43.43. It was not the winter he had planned.
Looking back, Porter admitted: “It was a tough tour. It doesn’t take a genius to work that out. It was a good experience, a good learning curve, but it’s good to be back with Essex.
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“It was tough in the West Indies, tough conditions for myself personally, and the other seam bowlers, but I think I’m in a good place now.”
The Lions shadowed the senior England team Down Under, and Porter said: “It was disappointing because I could potentially have been there or thereabouts for the Ashes squad. That was obviously gutting, but it gave me a good opportunity to look forward to this season and how I could come back as a better bowler – and I think I’ve done that.”
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The injury had not manifested itself during a summer in which he took 50 wickets for the third successive season. “I wasn’t in any pain,” he said. “When they X-rayed my back they found there was a clear bit of bone missing. But I didn’t feel it so it could have popped up at any time.
“It felt like a setback at the time, but now we’re going into an English summer where conditions are going to suit me. I feel that after getting used to bowling in Caribbean conditions it should be a whole lot easier coming home where it’s going to seam around, it’s going to swing around, do everything I want it to do. My job is just to hit a good line and length, which I think I do well, and if I do that I’ll cause problems.”
Essex begin the first-class season against Cambridge MCCU at Fenner’s on Saturday before facing Yorkshire at Headingley in the Championship opener tomorrow week. Porter issued a medical bulletin: “The body’s all good, a little stiff after Barbados, but I’m back, I’m happy and I’ll be ready for the first game.”
The big question for this season, though, is whether both Porter and Essex can top last year’s success. “For me it’s not so much about toppng last season, it’s about backing it up,” he said.
“So I think if I get 50 wickets-plus again, and I’m up there or thereabouts as leading wicket-taker, then I’ve done my job and contributed to the team.
“Ultimately, though, it’s about us defending the Championship. And I think we’re a good enough side to do that.”